In every airport you can find a large building that has surely caught your attention before, this building is typically tall and has large glass windows at the top. We are talking about the control tower, and it is an essential element contributing to the safety and movement of the aircraft in and around an airport.
What is a control tower?
As mentioned, a control tower is a tall building with a Visual Control Room at the top, in the optimal position at an airport. This room is a control center from which air traffic is safely controlled, providing the controller with visual reference to the traffic.
The location of the tower and its height play a significant role, given that these both must provide visual contact with the runways, the aircraft, and the ground vehicles of the airport. Additionally, this advantage in height allows for the control and monitoring of taxi, takeoff, and landing operations, as well as the vicinity of the airfield.
Control towers are typically responsible for controlling the traffic crossing their airspace but having no intention of landing, all the while coordinating takeoff and landings. To manage the movement of aircraft within an airspace, control towers are usually equipped with complex systems, amongst which are the following:
- Surveillance screens.
- Secondary Surveillance Radar Systems (SSR).
These screens include a map of the area, the position of multiple aircraft, and information about such (callsign, speed, altitude…)
During adverse weather conditions, controllers can also use:
- Surface Movement Radar (SMR).
- Surface Movement Guidance and Control System (SMGCS).
- Advanced SMGCS to control traffic in the maneuvering area
The role of an Air Traffic Controller.
An air traffic controller is a person in charge of coordinating, controlling, and monitoring the transit of aircraft within an airport or airspace in a safe, orderly, and fast manner.
To ensure the success of the mentioned actions, the controller clears the pilots into their airspace with numerous instructions and the necessary information to avoid collisions.
For ATC to maintain a safe separation between aircraft, a series of rules established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) are applied. The rules can also be put in place, or made stricter, by other aeronautical authorities, like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in Europe.